Barack Obama will accept the nomination as the Democratic candidate for president tonight at Invesco Field, Denver's "Mile High Stadium" having been dubbed the "Temple of Obama" by opponents of the "rock star" candidate.
By addressing the faithful in a venue better known for the Broncos' Orange Crush than nuanced political discourse, some observers recall the last acceptance speech given in a stadium — John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier" address delivered July 15, 1960, in Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum.
Symbolically, most would see it as an auspicious comparison. But given Kennedy's religion and Obama's race, another comparison arises.
After the ritual thank-yous prefacing his remarks, Kennedy tackled what was then considered the elephant in the room — his Roman Catholic faith.
I am fully aware of the fact that the Democratic Party, by nominating someone of my faith, has taken on what many regard as a new and hazardous risk — new, at least since 1928 [the year the Roman Catholic candidate Al Smith ran and lost].But I look at it this way: the Democratic Party has once again placed its confidence in the American people, and in their ability to render a free, fair judgment. And you have, at the same time, placed your confidence in me, and in my ability to render a free, fair judgment — to uphold the Constitution and my oath of office — and to reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of the Presidency in the national interest. ...
I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant.
What Kennedy did find relevant also echoes in Obama's rhetoric of change — Kennedy's call for a "New Frontier," which moved from a slogan to a banner that summer day.
Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises — it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook — it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.
But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric — and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party.
But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age — to all who respond to the Scriptural call: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed."
And for those keeping track, John McCain next week will deliver his acceptance speech to the GOP faithful at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, an auditorium that will host acts like Weezer, Rascal Flatts and Neil Young later in the year.
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